A Terminal Diagnosis: Bucket Lists and Forgiveness

A Terminal Diagnosis:

I was recently in hospital for a small procedure. As the nurse walked me into my room and pointed out my bed, my roommate sat bolt upright and gave me a warm greeting. She swung her legs over the edge of her bed and beamed a massive smile. She was a lovely looking lady and I could see immediately that she was full of character.

I settled into my bed and opened one of the two books I had brought with me, ready to immerse and inspire myself while I waited for my surgery. The words of the book jumped off the page: “Great influencers are not those that give answers but instead ask the right questions.” I paused to think about that powerful line. It was in fact the only line I was going to read as my room mate was going to maximize her time with her captive inmate.

She asked what I was being admitted for and I then reciprocated the question to which she very matter of factly replied that she had terminal cancer and was probably going to die soon. She had refused surgery and treatment but was only prepared to have blood transfusions to give her a better quality of life for her remaining few months. She was here for the blood transfusions. Well that’s not an everyday diagnosis so I naturally probed why she wouldn’t want to give it her best bash at beating her cancer.

“Ah,” she replied, “I have lost most of my family to cancer, including my 3 year old grandson and I miss them so much. I just want to be with them. I have had a wonderful 60 years of life but I am so lonely and I want to be with the people who matter the most in life. In addition, I don’t have medical aid and I don’t want to go to government hospitals. My pension isn’t very big and I don’t want to spend all of it, buying me more time and then have nothing left to financially support myself.”

I asked about her kids and for the first time, she grew sad and told me that she had lost one child to cancer and she didn’t see her other two kids. There had been a family fall out and she hadn’t spoken to them in years.

We sat quietly in our beds while I digested everything she had told me. I was sad for her decision. Here I was having a preventative procedure as I want LIFE and here she was getting ready to say goodbye and head to greener pastures. Every part of me wanted to try and convince her to fight but I knew that would only be disrespecting a decision she had already firmly made. The words from the book I had just read jumped back into my head. “Okay”, I thought, “let me encourage her to use her time left as best as she can by asking the right questions!”

Why Do We Wait For A Terminal Diagnosis Before We Live Our Bucket List?

“Your decision is hard for me to accept,” I said looking her squarely in the eyes. You look so young and vibrant. But I have learnt that in life, sometimes we need to agree to disagree so I respect your decision. Would it help if we chatted about getting you excited about the time you have left? What is on your bucket list?”

“Oooooooo a bucket list!!” she exclaimed with glee!! “I never thought about that. “You know she said,” I have always been fascinated with aeroplanes. I feel so free from the world when I am above it. One thing I have always wanted to do is sky-dive from a plane but I never did it as my blood pressure is high.”

“Well,” I coaxed, “I don’t mean to be cheeky but I don’t think your BP is going to matter too much now as you are already on borrowed time (tact has never really been one of my strengths)…….”

“Oh goodness,” she cried with joy, “you are sooooo right!!!! I am going to book my tandem sky-dive right away!”

While she booked her jump, screeching with delight as she got all the details, I sat pondering why we all wait too long to do things that are on our hearts.

In a way my friend was lucky that she had been given a timeframe but many of us aren’t given that luxury. Why do we put off living, thinking that we will tick off that list “one day”. One day when I get the promotion. One day when the kids are finished school. One day when the mortgage is paid off. But what if we never get “one day”. What if today is your only “one day”. None of us have a time guarantee. We should all make a bucket list and try tick it off sooner rather than later. Of course, we can’t have all the things we want in life but to have ticked off some of things that have been on our heart, well that is a life truly well lived!

Being On Good Terms With Loved Ones Before It’s Too Late

“Oooooo I am getting into this,” she joyfully laughed, “help me plan the next bucket list item.”

“Well,” I said gently. “Are there any relationships you should repair? Do you think it may help you leave more peacefully if any burnt bridges were repaired?”


Tears started falling from her eyes. “You mean my kids? But what if they reject me and want nothing to do with me, like they have in the past?” she murmured.

“Tell them that you are sorry for any mistakes or past hurt that tore you apart from each other,” I encouraged. Tell them that you are terminal and that you respect their decision not to see you again, but that you want them to know that you love them anyway.”

You know,” she answered gently, “before I knew I was terminal, I lived in the hope that my children would reach out to me and reconcile. But the call never came. And I was too proud to make the first move. Now that I know I don’t have too much time left, I am willing to set aside my ego and pride and to reach out in love.”

And then she started sobbing……..and in between messy gulps of air and tears she gasped: “I have wasted so much valuable time with my children because I was too proud.”

I immediately thought of Matthew 5:23 – 24 which reminds us that resolving disputes is more important than even attending church. God’s two greatest commandments are love God and love one another. God is all about relationship first and foremost.

Learning Life Lessons From the Strangest Messengers:

When it was time to leave the hospital, it was a hard goodbye. My new friend thanked me for my words of encouragement and assured me that she was going to make the most of her remaining days. She said that I had helped her see life with fresh eyes just as her journey was coming to an end.

The truth was though that my friend had taught me invaluable lessons and I was the one who arrived home with a spring in my step ready to truly embrace life.

God can teach us lessons from the most unlikely messengers, often when we least expect it.

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